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Q&A: When school might start again and more on coronavirus in the Valley

You probably have a lot of questions about the coronavirus pandemic and how it’s impacting the Mahoning Valley and your life here.
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You probably have a lot of questions about the coronavirus pandemic and how it’s impacting the Mahoning Valley and your life here. We’re trying to answer as many as possible.

How many cases are there in the Valley and in Ohio?

Right now, there are over 303 confirmed cases in the Mahoning Valley. About 203 are residents of Mahoning County, 72 of Trumbull County and 28 of Columbiana County. The numbers in Mahoning County have been rising significantly in recent days, and as the outbreak has progressed, the Mahoning Valley area's cases have been particularly troubling.

Mahoning County has seen a large chunk of the state's deaths and it has the highest per capita rate of confirmed cases among the 10 most populous Ohio counties with confirmed cases of COVID-19, as well as the 10 Ohio counties with the most cases overall. Mahoning County had a population of 228,683 people in 2019,  meaning earlier this week there was one confirmed case of coronavirus for every 1,494 people in the county.

Details about most of the cases aren't clear and health officials aren't releasing many. A large number are due to "community spread," or have no known sources, and officials believe many more people in the area and the state already have the virus, so the confirmed numbers do not reflect the extent of spread or the true number of people who have it. 

Officials in Ohio have confirmed positive tests in more than 2,902 people —  more than 400 more than the day before. Of the confirmed positives, over 895 have been hospitalized. Ninety one people have died.

Gov. Mike DeWine and health officials believe a wave of patients who will need to be hospitalized is still coming, and projects a peak of 10,000 confirmed cases a day by mid-May.

Can I get tested for coronavirus?

If you are feeling healthy or only a little sick, aren't in the hospital and aren't a health care worker, getting tested for COVID-19 seems very unlikely right now. Local and state leaders have complained that there are very few tests available locally, consistent with a big national shortage in tests.

Some mobile testing has been implemented on a limited basis, but officials said they are currently focusing testing mostly on health care workers and people who are already hospitalized.

But officials are moving away from a focus on testing, at least for now. Dr. Amy Acton, the Ohio Department of Health’s director of health, said that because the pandemic is now at “community spread” stage, testing is not as vital or useful because many people likely already have the virus. Instead, Ohio officials are pushing for “social distancing” and other measures to slow the spread of the virus.

What is being done to slow the spread?

Officials are now mandating people to stay home as much as possible through a "stay at home" order issued by Gov. Mike DeWine's administration, which is set to expire now on May 1, three weeks after the original date. The strategy is meant to encourage extreme "social distancing" and keep people physically apart as much as possible except when they are in their own households.

Under the order, people can leave their homes for essential activities like doing essential jobs, grocery shopping, exercise and helping a family member, but they should still practice social distancing when out of their homes and at work if they have jobs deemed essential. Businesses that are not deemed "essential" must set up a remote working operation or cease operations during this time.

Part of social distancing is what Acton is calling the “Kevin Bacon Rule” – a reference to the movie “Six Degrees of Separation” – keeping a six feet separation between you and other people, especially in public places. At a minimum, Acton recommends at least three feet. She's also encouraging people to think of "social distancing" as simply "physical distancing."

What are the details of the state's stay-at-home order? 

Ohio has its very own Q&A to explain the policy here. Though there are a lot of exceptions, the basic idea is for people to stay in their homes unless they have jobs deemed esential and to go out as little as possible to obtain necessary provisions like groceries, medicine and gas. Even if you have an essential job that requires your physical presence, your employer is required to follow social distancing guidelines like keeping people six feet apart and mandating frequent hand washing. The list of "essential" businesses is here in our story about the order.

What do I do if I feel sick and suspect coronavirus?

Most people will feel one or more symptoms that are similar to a typical cold or mild flu — fever, headache, dry cough, body aches — and they should stay home and away from other people, Acton said. If you start having trouble breathing or want to see a doctor, Acton said people should call ahead so doctors or hospitals are prepared to safely receive you.

If you want to talk to a medical professional and you have insurance, your coverage may include a tele-medicine service that allows you to call in and speak with a doctor or a nurse. You can also call the state’s coronavirus hotline at 833-4-ASK-ODH, which is manned by nurses, though it has been overwhelmed and received 18,000 calls in its first few days. You can also go to coronavirus.ohio.gov for more information on what to do if you or family members have symptoms.

What about my elective surgery or medical procedure?

Ohio officials originally urged people to postpone elective medical and veterinary procedures, but now DeWine has now ordered all of them suspended, so check with your doctor if you have one scheduled.

Officials are trying to create hospital capacity as infections ramp up and prevent people from being in crowded hospitals unless they absolutely need to be there.

DeWine said ensuring Ohio hospitals have enough bed capacity and protective equipment to treat infected patients will be one of the state’s “big challenges” moving forward.

Officials are trying to build up a stockpile of masks for medical professionals — masks that would have otherwise been used in elective procedures. Ohio has already received its portion of masks from the national stockpile but “the numbers are nowhere near what we will need,” Acton said.

What is closed and what is open in the Valley?

Now that DeWine has issued a "stay home" order, only businesses and organizations deemed essential can be open and operating — that includes but is not limited to grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and bars for takeout and delivery only, religious institutions, gas stations, banks and hardware stores. 

That means barber shops, salons, and tattoo parlors, gyms and movie theaters and most retail stores are closed. Casinos, sports venues, parks and event centers like the Covelli Centre have canceled their schedules at least through March.

All public schools are closed and almost all school events are being canceled.

The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County is closed. 

And the list goes on, and on and on. See our full list of closures, postponements and restrictions.

What's going on with plans for school and daycare?

Schools in Ohio are closed until May 1, almost a month later than the original date of April 3. But DeWine has said he "wouldn't be surprised" if they ended up closed for the rest of the school year. 

Daycare is a little different. He has also limited daycare after keeping daycares open for a week longer than schools. Daycares must operate as "pandemic centers" with a limit of six children and one teacher per room, along with additional new regulations. DeWine said parents who need day care services can apply online through the Department of Job and Family Services.

How can I and my children get food during this time?

We are working to consistently update this list of businesses and services that are open to the public right now, including local food pantries. We also have listed the Valley restaurants that are open for carryout and delivery. Several area schools are providing "grab and go" lunches for students, you can find a list of those here. If you have updates for any of these lists, please let us know at news@mahoningmatters.com

​​What about primary election day? 

The last day of primary voting — commonly known as Election Day — is now April 28. You have until then to mail in an absentee ballot if you haven't already voted. There won't be any more in person voting, early or otherwise. Anyone can get an absentee ballot. Read here about how to do so. If you voted before the original March 17 Election Day was postponed, your vote will be counted on April 28. 

What about churches or other places of worship?

Though religious gatherings are excluded from DeWine’s order banning gatherings of 100 or more people, the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown has suspended public Mass through Easter and most churches across the Valley have canceled their in-person services.

The Youngstown Area Jewish Federation has canceled or postponed most of its events, too. 

Some religious institutions are offering streaming services, so check with yours to see if that's available. 

Let us know how your place of worship is handling its gatherings by emailing news@mahoningmatters.com.

How long will all this last?

“For a while,” said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who has taken an aggressive public policy approach to the outbreak. “This is not a sprint.” 

The stay at home order lasts through April 6, but is very likely to be extended. When he closed restaurants and bars for dine-in service, he said it was an indefinite order.

DeWine has said that the Ohio Department of Health’s best estimate is that infections will peak in mid-May.

“So we’re going to be doing this for a while,” he said.

What other questions do you have about the coronavirus outbreak? Let us know what other questions you have in the comments or by emailing news@mahoningatters.com. We’ll be updating this with more answers as the outbreak unfolds.




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